Bank of America Downtime Rattles Nerves

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There’s never a good time for an all-day web site outage. But with many Americans anxious about the stability of the banking system, Bank of America’s web site was offline for at least five hours Monday. In a sign of customer nerves, the phrases “bank of america” and “bank of america login” surged to the top of Google Trends as Internet users sought information about why they couldn’t access their accounts.

“We’ve had sporadic interruption of online banking service,” BofA spokesman Tara Burke told CNet. “It doesn’t impact customer information, just the ability to access it. We are continuing to correct the error. The site should return shortly.”

Bank of America recently agreed to acquire Merrill Lynch, one of a number of U.S. financial institutions to seek mergers or rescues during the current Wall Street crisis. The market turbulence has apparently led to increased traffic at many financial web sites, with at least four online brokerage sites experiencing performance problems last week.

It’s not yet clear whether the problem was limited to the bank’s “sitekey” subdomain, a secure domain used to validate logins, or was more widespread. Domains using SSL encryption to authenticate users typically have a slightly slower response time than non-SSL pages, and in theory would be more likely to struggle during periods of extraordinary traffic. That’s one reason banks began including login forms on non-SSL pages, a strategy that has allowed them to display login forms on their high-traffic home pages, but has drawn criticism from some security professionals.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Outages (and brownouts) like the one that affected BofA are going to continue until these enterprises get their Operations act together and start taking a more proactive approach to performance management. Every IT department I speak with is using a variety of siloed monitoring solutions and relying on static thresholds for individual metric measurements to determine if they are having a problem. Of course, this is not very effective because if they set the thresholds too high, by the time they get alerts end users are already calling them to complain. Set them lower and they get constant alert flow that masks the real problem precursors and they still find out about problems from end users. Most of these folks are probably not monitoring critical end user experience data and are not incorporating business performance metrics so they focus efforts on problems that are really impacting the business. Even the most sophisticated IT operations, with their fancy BSM dashboards and Event Management systems and complex processes and procedures cannot prevent problems from affecting end users and the bottom line of the business. Lets not even get into the affect on these company’s reputations… So what is missing… Well… an automated “brain” that can intergrate with their existing monitoring infrastructure and understand the normal behavior of all the components that make up these complex, customer-facing business services. A solution that can add context and tell IT Operations when to pay attention and what to pay attention to. Lets face it… their current tools aren’t giving them these two critical pieces of information. In fact, these tools are confusing the issue unintentionally. Performance management analytics solutions exist that take metric data from siloed monitoring sources and analyze it holistically, learning the normal behavior of every metric collected and sending a heads up when significant abnormal behaviors indicate a problem is imminent. These solutions often predict problems hours before occurrence and include the most likely root cause symptoms so that action can be taken to prevent them. Until IT Operations teams embrace solutions such as these, you'll have plenty more of these types of outages to report on, Rich...